At Kensington forum, elementary school students ask mayoral candidates for solutions
Students of Casarez Elementary stressed the impacts of rampant drug use and violence in the neighborhood.Listen 1:23
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Candidates in Philadelphia’s crowded mayoral race have been in near-constant forums of late, making their pitches to primary voters.
Asking the questions at the Gloria Casarez school on Tuesday night were elementary students. Top of mind was how the city’s mayoral candidates plan to serve the Kensington area.
Gloria Casarez Elementary sourced questions from the community, as well as the school’s students, many of whom stressed the impact of rampant drug use throughout the neighborhood.
Philly's mayoral candidates gathered in Kensington today to answer questions from students @CasarezTigers and I helped moderate. #phled pic.twitter.com/yjYilaaCZy— Aubri Ruth Juhasz (@AubriRuth) March 15, 2023
One student,10-year-old Jhovanny Quiñones, asked candidates how they plan to clean up Kensington’s streets. He said he often finds needles and trash and passes people openly using and selling drugs while walking to school each day.
“No kid should have to walk to school and see what we all see when we walk here,” said former city controller Rebecca Rhynhart. “People with needles in their necks, people collapsed. We should not have this in our city.”
Rhynhart said she would appoint an “opioid czar,” and use law enforcement to break up the neighborhood’s open-air drug market.
Former City Councilmember David Oh, the lone Republican candidate, advocated for more law enforcement in the neighborhood, saying “enforcing the law is so much more humane than ignoring the law.”
“The reason you have this problem is because somebody made a decision not to enforce the law,” Oh said. “All of this is illegal. You should not have people doing injections right in the middle of the day. You should not have drug dealers openly selling drugs with police told not to arrest them or to intervene.”
Former City Councilmember Allan Domb echoed similar sentiments, but added he would introduce a $5 to $7 million revitalization plan for the neighborhood.
“I remember when Kensington was thriving,” Domb said. “I remember Cramer’s Kids on Kensington Avenue. I remember all those stores that were doing well. We’ve allowed this, and I blame the government. We have allowed this to occur. We need to fix it.”
Another Kensington resident said they feel like the neighborhood is on the receiving end of “bad policies,” and asked how candidates planned to partner with residents in the decision-making process.
Former City Councilmember María Quiñones Sánchez said the one thing Kensington is missing is leadership.
“No neighborhood should live like this,” Sánchez said. “I’m going to stand with my community leaders and I’m going to make them clean and safe. That is what we’re missing. This is not an investment issue. This is not a leadership issue locally. It is a leadership issue from the city and all of the elected officials here.”
Candidates also pointed to failed city initiatives that they say led to a lack of faith within local government.
“Philadelphians are at a significantly low voter turnout and civic engagement and participation because people have quite frankly, lost hope and faith in government,” said former City Councilmember Cherelle Parker. “They’ve lost it because they haven’t seen their tax dollars at work in their neighborhoods or their schools.”
Former City Councilmember Derek Green said Philadelphians should expect more from their local government.
“It does not make sense that we have allowed a section of our city to look like an episode from ‘The Wire,’” Green said.
Other mayoral candidates present included Warren Bloom, Amen Brown, and Helen Gym. Candidates Jeff Brown and Jimmy DeLeon were not present.
May 1 is the last day to register to vote in the mayoral primary. Election Day is Tuesday, May 16.
Editor’s note: WHYY News education reporter Aubri Juhasz was a moderator for Tuesday’s forum.
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